Aired 23 April 2011
Doctor Who wastes no time in setting major events in motion in ‘The Impossible Astronaut.’ Despite weeks of teases that one of the main characters was going to die in the season opener, it’s unlikely that the Doctor himself made it to the top of many prediction lists. And while there will undoubtedly be some clever plot devices and actions that allow these events to change in the 200 years before they occur in the Doctor’s personal timeline, it’s still a shocking sequence to be hold especially since, as it stands, the speed with which he dies does not allow for regeneration.
‘The Impossible Astronaut’ is an ambitious episode with ambitious scope, filmed on location in the US and offering sense of worldwide peril rather than a more isolated threat as usual. While there are many threads already being weaved into events, it’s the Silence mentioned so frequently in the previous run of episodes that offers the most satisfying connection. Finally the Silence is revealed, a visually sinister race that has the unnerving ability to be completely forgotten when not being looked at directly. The scenes featuring this new race, even as they stand in the White House itself, are easily some of the most disturbing while making viewers wonder just what they have accomplished in the past that remains completely unknown or forgotten as well as what their plans are going forward.
Yet despite the introduction of this new foe, the story itself if a fantastic one as well. Featuring a role reversal of sorts through invitations and time travel, it turns out that for once the companions are more knowledgeable of future events than the Doctor is. This actually brings out a more serious side of the Eleventh Doctor than usually seen, and surely this is a thread that will continue to be explored throughout the series as his apparent death draws nearer.
The introduction of Canton Everett Delaware III works extremely well, at first introduced as a seemingly random man. And while his presence doesn’t add much to the strange appearance of the astronaut from the water, the shooting of the Doctor, or the burning of his body, it does show that he is a man of some importance to be invited to this event. Ultimately as events shift to Washington, D.C., it’s a younger version of Canton played extremely well by Mark Sheppard, that persuades President Nixon to trust the Doctor and his companions and tags along for the ensuing adventure; it’s clear that bigger events are in store for everyone in the concluding installment.
Nixon himself is fantastically portrayed by Stuart Milligan and becomes quite integral to the story rather than just being a cameo from a famous historical character. He has been receiving calls in the Oval Office from a young girl who’s scared of the spaceman, and his recordings keep a lasting record of the calls. Even when the Doctor finally manages to track the source of the calls down, though, it only raises more questions. Surely the spaceman ties into the astronaut, but just who is she?
Truly, everyone is on fine form here, though special note must be given to Arthur Darvill who continues to deliver strong performances as Rory continues to step more out of the background without becoming the typical heroic lead. Likewise, Alex Kingston as River Song makes another brilliant return, clearly housing more knowledge about the Doctor’s future than she’s letting on. Usually this secrecy would be the biggest lingering plot point, but Amy steals that thunder with the revelation that she is pregnant. Whether or not the young girl ties into the pregnancy or not, this revelation is one that will undoubtedly have big ramifications going forward.
All in all, then, ‘The Impossible Astronaut’ is a superb series opener and return to screens for Doctor Who. All of the main characters are back together and giving typically strong performances alongside equally strong guest characters, shocking revelations abound while setting up many threads to explore in future episodes, the scope and ambition comes together flawlessly, and the introduction of the Silence as a chillingly menacing new foe is perfect. This is not only a great episode of Doctor Who but a great hour of television in general, and the concluding ‘Day of the Moon’ and the rest of the series has a tough task in following this.